In a rare move, Iranian newspapers on Thursday criticized the country’s morality police, tasked with ensuring respect for Islamic laws, after a video of a woman pleading for her daughter’s release went viral.
The criticism emerged as public debate about the hijab, a required female head covering, resurfaced after local media reported measures that may indicate tighter controls.
The morality police patrol the streets with a mandate to enter public areas to check on implementation of the headscarf law and other Islamic requirements.
Morality officers became a much less common sight after moderate President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, but the force has had a renewed presence over the past weeks under his successor, ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi.
The video, widely shared on social media in Iran, showed a woman standing in front of a van used by Tehran’s morality police, commonly known as Gasht-e Ershad, or “guidance patrol.” She screamed that her daughter, allegedly being carried away in the van, was ill.
The veiled woman kept holding on to the vehicle, trying to stop it as it started moving slowly, before eventually being pulled aside. The van sped away.
Papers sound off
It was unclear whether the woman’s daughter had violated the hijab law or other Islamic regulations, but reformist daily Sazandegi published a drawing of the scene on its front page Thursday, with “Stop the morality police” as its headline.
Similar calls echoed in reformist papers, with Arman-e Melli asking the police to “be kind,” and Shargh warning that “urban peace [is] in a tight spot.”
The video, which could not independently be verified by AFP, spread widely early this week. Tehran police said it involved a patrol in the western part of the capital.
“Following this incident … the matter was immediately investigated … and disciplinary action was taken against the head of the police patrol for the mismanagement,” Tehran’s police inspection chief Hamid Khorvash was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on Thursday.
“Today, the mother of this citizen was consoled, and this citizen also appreciated the quick handling and follow-up of this matter,” he added without elaborating.
The debate made its way to the political scene as well.
Hassan Khomeini, a reformist figure and grandchild of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, posted the scene on Instagram.
“Whatever this is, it is not guidance, it is not Islamic, it is not wise and has no benefit,” he wrote on his official page, which more than 600,000 followers, on Tuesday.
Ahmad Khatami, a conservative member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, tasked with electing the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, defended the morality officers and said the law on the hijab “must be implemented.”
“Unfortunately, some people do not observe hijab and even remove their coverings in public places, which is against the law,” he was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency Thursday.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian law has required all women, regardless of nationality or religious belief, to wear hijabs that cover the head and neck while concealing the hair.
Many have pushed the boundaries over the past two decades by allowing the hijab to slide back and reveal more hair, especially in Tehran and other major cities, and the actions of the morality police have been criticized before.
Rouhani, then president, warned in 2018 that “promoting virtue will not work through violence,” after a video emerged of a violent encounter between a woman and morality officers.
This month, local media reported that women in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad were banned from taking the metro if they were not wearing head coverings, and three coffee shops were closed in the central city of Qom because customers were not wearing headscarves.
Raisi, who came to power last year, called this month for hijab laws and rules to be implemented “in full,” state media reported.
He stressed that “the enemies of Iran and Islam” are targeting “religious foundations and values of the society,” IRNA reported on July 5.
“Necessary and preventive measures should be taken,” the president added, asking pertinent institutions — which would include the morality police — “to take systematic and integrated actions in this regard.”